Those who have toured the backstage recesses of KÀ at MGM Grand always halt at the catwalks that show the production’s vertical Battle Wall and the deep pit below. The wall is nearly 100 feet tall. The pit, 25 feet deep. Visitors gaze down and are terrified at the thought of falling over that great distance.
On June 29, a performer did plummet down that wall, and she did not survive. Sarah Guyard-Guillot, 31, a single mother of two children ages 8 and 5, fell free of the set during a performance and dropped from the stage into the pit below. Audience members heard her screams and groans as the show halted. Artists onstage heard were crying, as were those seated in the theater. She was pronounced dead at 11:43 p.m. at University Medical Center.
Guyard-Guillot was born in Paris and studied at the prestigious Annie Fratellini Art & Circus Academy, founded by the famed French circus clown and actress. She had performed in circus shows since age 9, trained at the Cirque headquarters in Montreal and was an original member of the KÀ cast when the show opened in 2006. She was also a well-liked coach at Las Vegas’s Cirquefit fitness academy for young acrobats.
Founded in 1984, Cirque has long trumpeted its impressive safety record, and the death of Guyard-Guillot was the first onstage fatality during a ticketed performance in the company’s history. There has been one death reported during a Cirque rehearsal, artist Oleksandr Zhurov, 24, who fell off a trampoline during training in Montreal and suffered head injuries. There have also been serious injuries during Corteo in Portland, Oregon, La Nouba in Orlando, Florida, and Zumanity at New York-New York. In one of the last preview performances of Michael Jackson One, a slack-rope artist dropped to the stage and suffered a mild concussion.
As Michael Jackson One opened, one member of the Cirque team said the show was an attempt at “redemption” for the company, which closed Viva Elvis in August for lackluster ticket sales, its first Strip closure. The company prides itself on raising its already lofty standards in the face of stiff competition among its own shows and other productions on the Strip. But as the Cirque family and its fans from around the world were reminded in the KÀ tragedy, such artistic adventurism is not without risk. Guyard-Guillot was known as a “badass” instructor and artist. She was an ideal fit for Cirque, a company that is now making sure its thrill-seeking ideals are also safe for its dedicated performers. That is, and has always been, its greatest balancing act.